Transportstyrelsen, the Swedish DMV, requires all cars to have a yearly check-up at the government-run garage called Bilprovningen, which means “car testing.” But Mats calls it “the hammer man,” because if you have rust under your car, they will test the body strength with a hammer. He had an orange 1988 Saab when I met him and he dreaded the yearly hammer man appointment, uncertain if it would pass inspection.
We recently had our appointment for the Prius. Being the second time, I knew the drill. I registered on the computer in a little closet of a room, then waited outside the grey warehouse building in my car. At exactly 9:50, the scheduled time for my appointment, my license plate number showed on the electronic sign so I knew which numbered door I should drive into when it opened.
I was told I could wait in the room next to the open garage where there are hot drinks, newspapers and magazines. I had tea and peeked in to see how my car was doing.
They checked the angle of the headlights (not too high, not too low), fluids, wheel alignment, that you have a spare tire and warning triangle in trunk, and a bunch of other things that are beyond my mechanical understanding.
Then they took the car for a fast spin around the parking to test the steering, brakes, and horn.
The man returned through the back door, my car now parked outside.
He said in Swedish that the car was approved, but I had a hard time hearing what he’d said. I explained I was learning Swedish and he said it a little slower so I could understand.
“Where do you come from?” he asked, still in Swedish.
“U.S.A., Kalifornien,” I answered.
“Near Sacramento?” he asked.
“Well, about an hour away. Have you been there?”
“No,” he answered, “Three years ago I bought a car from there, had it shipped over.”
“We had our car shipped here from California too!” I exclaimed, not sure why this obscure link to home was so exciting.
“Yes,” he said, looking at the computer screen, “I see your car is foreign.”
“Was it an old car?” I asked. For those into classic cars, it’s popular to buy old American cars and have them shipped over.
“A 1950’s Chevrolet, from Sacramento.” He smiled proudly. “Only had two owners, and was barely driven. It’s in almost original condition.”
We talked about the car and then I thanked him as he handed me my keys and a computer printout - approval for one more year of driving here in Sweden. Until our next hammer man appointment.
I got into the car and adjusted the seat forward again for my short legs. The grey rainy day felt brighter with a little California connection. I started the car and the newscaster on the radio reported on American politics. I understood something about the polls showing a tight race between Obama and Romney. The rest of the discussion was lost under the sound of rain and my limited knowledge of political vocabulary in Swedish.